Latinos in Action – Leading By Example Author: South Valley Chamber Published: June 5, 2018 In 2001, Jose Enriquez, Founder and CEO of Latinos in Action, was a young high school ESL and Spanish teacher. As he taught, he observed a number of Latino students that weren’t engaged or going to college at the rate that he felt was needed. Enriquez asked the school if he could take on teaching Spanish for natives to try to connect Latinos to their culture. He began teaching his students about famous heroes of their heritage when he realized that he could teach them about heroes, or they could create their own. It was here that Latinos in Action (LIA) was born. Enriquez encouraged students to start from within to see themselves as heroes – making it a very asset driven class. He told students they already had talents and assets within them and they were simply there to develop them. By 2010 it became a state-wide movement. LIA quickly grew into five schools and was big enough where Enriquez could no longer do it on the side and needed to create a 501c3 nonprofit and run it full time. Today, Latinos in Action is a national movement – with the program implemented in 160 schools in four different states. Any students from 7th grade and higher can be in the program and take the class as an elective course. The curriculum for the class is based off of four main pillars – community service, leadership, academic excellence, and development of personal assets. Their mission is to empower Latino youth to lead and strengthen their communities through college and career readiness. In addition to the elective course, employees of Latinos in Action and volunteers also visit more than 100 schools per year in Utah alone, tutor elementary school students, and host numerous annual graduation conferences where they award scholarships to deserving students. “We intentionally avoid gathering only A students to participate in the class,” said Burton Rojas, Director of Development at Latinos in Action. “We want this to be 30% upper level academically; 40% students who are middle tier academically; and 30% students who, without intervention, might drop out of school for a variety of reasons.” The intention behind gathering a variety of students from all levels is that it gives them opportunities to interact while lifting everyone. One of the jobs of LIA is to break down barriers between students and someone not of their background – connecting them with each other and their communities. “We require 80% of students in the program be Latino and 20% can be from any background. “Some of the upper tier students are second generation in the United States and may not be as connected to their background as first generation students. This program brings them together. It also brings the lower students up academically,” Rojas said. LIA works with counselors, principals, and teachers to try to identify students who will benefit from the program. “I wish I had this program as a kid,” said Rojas. “We were outliers. There weren’t really programs designed to help us move along the educational system or teach us to navigate a system that was foreign to us. We can’t dictate how hard the students will work at something, but we’ve discovered that if we provide an opportunity, then the students jump at it and embrace it. We want to serve as a support system. We give them an opportunity to learn, to develop, and to go and use that to move forward.” Brenda Granzini, Southern Regional Program Manager at Latinos in Action, is not only an employee, but a graduate as well. “I come from Argentina, so growing up was really difficult for me because I was different and a minority,” she said. “I never considered myself successful in school. I was introduced to LIA at Pleasant Grove High School when I was in 10th grade and it completely changed my life. LIA showed me how to truly believe in myself and showed me that I’m special for who I am. Something sparked a fire inside of me and I wanted to keep learning.” Latinos In Action is growing. By the fall of 2018 they will have the program implemented in nearly 200 schools reaching nearly 7000 students in 7 states: Utah, Idaho, Arizona, California, Illinois, Connecticut, and Florida. If you are interested in volunteering, Latinos in Action is currently looking for contributions of time, talent, and funds. This includes professionals of all backgrounds willing to share their story or expertise in a class, providing job shadowing opportunities for students, or donating funds. To learn more visit www.latinosinaction.org.